Obelisk Art History
Tang Dynasty

Zhenmushou, Tomb Guardian

Zhenmushou, Tomb Guardian, Tang Dynasty
Zhenmushou, Tomb Guardian, zoomed in
58.4 cmZhenmushou, Tomb Guardian scale comparison38.1 cm
See Zhenmushou, Tomb Guardian in the Kaleidoscope

Zhenmushou, Tomb Guardian is a Tang Dynasty Terracotta Artifact created in 740 CE. It lives at the Yale University Art Gallery in the United States. The image is in the Public Domain, and tagged Monsters and Funerary Artwork. Download

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In ancient China it was widely believed that humans have two souls: the hun and the po. After death, the hun left the body, but the po stayed behind, inhabiting the corpse. Of course, burial was a lonely place for the po, left by themselves in the tomb, so a tradition developed to leave objects in the tomb that the po might need. These burial objects, called mingqi, might include eating utencils, musical instruments, a favorite item of clothing, or a warrior’s preferred weapon.

Naturally, wealthy individuals buried themselves with more elaborate mingqi, eventually including figures of dancers to entertain their po and model horses and camels for them to ride. And for a tomb this luxurious, you needed some security. Enter zhenmushou, the bodyguards of the afterlife. These earth spirits were intentionally ferocious looking, often with bared fangs and horns.

The Zhenmushou above is pictured victorious, a wild boar defeated underfoot. Wealthy tombs were often home to four of these little badasses, one placed at each of the four corners.

Reed Enger, "Zhenmushou, Tomb Guardian," in Obelisk Art History, Published October 18, 2019; last modified October 18, 2019, http://arthistoryproject.com/timeline/middle-ages/tang-dynasty/zhenmushou-tomb-guardian/.

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